Saturday, February 06, 2010

NY Times Obituary: Louis Auchincloss

Louis Auchincloss, Chronicler of New York’s Upper Crust, Dies at 92

Published: January 27, 2010

Louis Auchincloss, a Wall Street lawyer from a prominent old New York family who became a durable and prolific chronicler of Manhattan’s old-money elite, died on Tuesday night in Manhattan. He was 92.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Louis Auchincloss in 1985.

His death, at Lenox Hill Hospital, was caused by complications of a stroke, his son Andrew said. Mr. Auchincloss lived on the Upper East Side.

Although he practiced law full time until 1987, Mr. Auchincloss published more than 60 books of fiction, biography and literary criticism in a writing career of more than a half-century. . . .

Admirers compared him to other novelists of society and manners like William Dean Howells, but Mr. Auchincloss’s greatest influence was probably Edith Wharton, whose biography he wrote and with whom he felt a direct connection. His grandmother had summered with Wharton in Newport, R.I.; his parents were friends of Wharton’s lawyers. He almost felt he knew Wharton personally, Mr. Auchincloss once said.

Like Wharton, Mr. Auchincloss was interested in class and morality and in the corrosive effects of money on both. “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs,” Gore Vidal once wrote. “Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives.”

His detractors complained that Mr. Auchincloss’s writing was glib and superficial, or else that his subject matter was too dated to be of much interest. Writing in The New York Times in 1984, Michiko Kakutani said that while Mr. Auchincloss “is adept enough at portraying the effects of a rarefied milieu on character, his narrative lacks a necessary density and texture.”

“Like the shiny parquet floors of their apartment houses,” she added, “Mr. Auchincloss’s people are just a little too finely polished, a little too tidily assembled.”

The author Bruce Bawer, writing in The New York Times Book Review, said that Mr. Auchincloss had the bad luck to live “in a time when the protagonists of literary fiction tend to be middle- or lower-class.”

. . . .

“Class prejudice” was Mr. Auchincloss’s response to his critics. “That business of objecting to the subject material or the people that an author writes about is purely class prejudice,” he said in an interview in 1997, “and you will note that it always disappears with an author’s death. Nobody holds it against Henry James or Edith Wharton or Thackeray or Marcel Proust.”

. . . .

Even near the end of his life, Mr. Auchincloss said the influence of his class had not waned. “I grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in a nouveau riche world, where money was spent wildly, and I’m still living in one!,” he told The Financial Times in 2007. “The private schools are all jammed with long waiting lists; the clubs — all the old clubs — are jammed with long waiting lists today; the harbors are clogged with yachts; there has never been a more material society than the one we live in today.”

Obituary: Louis Auchincloss

Lawyer and prolific author Louis Auchincloss, 92, dies

By Dennis Drabelle
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Louis Auchincloss, 92, a novelist, essayist, biographer, editor and lawyer whose literary beat was the decline of the old WASP world of power and privilege to which he belonged, died Jan. 26 at Lenox Hill Hospital, near his home in Manhattan. He had complications from a stroke.

The author of more than 60 books in a career stretching over seven decades, Mr. Auchincloss was best known for such novels as "The Rector of Justin" (1964), about the founding headmaster of an elite prep school, and "The Embezzler" (1966), about an upper-class Wall Street stockbroker who succumbs to temptation during the Great Depression.

Louis Stanton Auchincloss (pronounced AWK-in-closs) was born in the Long Island, N.Y., community of Lawrence on Sept. 27, 1917, and grew up on Manhattan's Upper East Side. As a youth, he was put off by his father's arid practice as a corporate lawyer and drawn to his mother's artistic pursuits.

. . . . . . . . .

In 1965, Mr. Auchincloss got the jump on a literary movement by publishing "Pioneers & Caretakers: A Study of 9 American Women Novelists," including Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather and a writer with whom Mr. Auchincloss himself was often compared: Edith Wharton. Not only did he acknowledge the similarities; he wrote and edited several books about Wharton, one of them a brief biography. He also wrote biographies of Cardinal Richelieu, Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and edited the diaries of two 19th-century Manhattan grandees, Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong.